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Are You Here for What I’m Here For? by…

Are You Here for What I’m Here For?

by Brian Booker

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This debut collection of short stories by Brian Booker was unexpectedly amazing. Booker creates solid, unsettling worlds with untrustworthy narrators and just enough backstory to make the reader suspicious of everything without tying a neat bow around every question. Compelling, unique, creative stuff. This is one to check out and an author to watch for the future. ( )
  kristykay22 | Jan 7, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
When I received my review copy of this collection, the accompanying letter came from Bellevue Literary Press, an arm of the NYU Department of Medicine. They also published a novel I much loved, Paul Harding’s slim Pulitzer Prize Winner, Tinkers, so I was very intrigued.

I was not surprised to find that Brian Booker’s atmospheric and unsettling short fiction deals with the ways in which we respond to or cope with illness or infirmity – in ourselves and others. How illness can be polarizing and isolating. There’s a palpable sense of deep discomfort and paranoia pervading each story.

Booker dips into several different genres for each of his stories. The most atmospheric and impactful tale, “Brace for Impact,” is the story of two teenagers trying to lose their virginity juxtaposed with that of one of their mothers, the invalid survivor of a plane crash. The boy’s encounter with her has the strange menace of horror fiction, while “The Sleeping Sickness,” is a noir-ish thriller that takes place, Alfred Hitchcock-style, largely on a train. Some of the stories have a strange, dark humor to them, particularly the title piece, wherein a hypochondriac who believes she is terminally ill finds renewed vigor after a weekend with her husband at a tropical spa, and “Gumbo Limbo,” a sort of fractured fairy tale about a pharmacist’s blind ward who befriends a mysterious sea creature, sending superstitious locals into a fear-fueled rage.

The language is spare but affecting and adds to the often dream-like atmosphere of the tales. For example, this passage from “Gumbo Limbo,” which likens the tide to the beating of a human heart:

“And even if you never ask one question your whole life, still it says that one thing, always and only that one thing: I’m here. I’m going. I’m here. I’m going. I’m here.”

In exploring illness - real and imagined, physical and psychological – Booker is also examining, in a larger sense, how humans cope with mortality. This is a challenging, thought-provoking collection. ( )
  blakefraina | Sep 5, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Given the wonderful reviews I have been seeing I was excited to dive into these short stories but I was left wanting.

There wasn't anything I could really put my finger on that wasn't up to par - they just didn't really capture my attention in the way I like my short stories to do. ( )
  TracyRae | Jul 6, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Seven weirdly wonderful stories with characters grappling with the darkest of monsters... those that arise from the inner world of the mind. Unsettling, to say the least, this is not for everyone. But those who venture in will find surreal scenes that refuse not only to leave, but insist upon stirring dark currents in their own minds. There's humor here, and a strong thread of love for the strange creatures we are. A good read. The question is, do you dare? It's hard to stick a toe in without finding yourself suddenly submerged. ( )
  Carrie.Kilgore | Jun 13, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Are You Here For What I'm Here For? is a book of very lethally quiet stories. Mr. Booker had such a lyrical choice of words to tell each and I experienced almost a dreamlike feel about them -- just lovely pacing while keeping me a bit off kilter and unsettled as to what was happening, what was going to happen, in this collection. It was all a bit wibbly wobbly timey wimey.

My favorites: The Sleeping Sickness; Here to Watch Over Me; and Gumbo Limbo. All three of these were the ones that really grabbed me up and had me thinking about them long after I put the book down.

Nice job and I would love to read more short stories by this author. Highly recommend . ( )
  DanaJean | Jun 2, 2016 |
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"A brilliant debut." --CHARLES BAXTER, author ofThe Soul Thief andThere's Something I Want You to Do The suspense creeps in and takes hold in seven stories about troubled characters grappling with rare illnesses, menacing chance encounters, sexual awakening, impending natural disasters, and New Age cults. Within these pages, the everyday meets the uncanny as two high school friends go out for one unforgettable night. A boy, haunted by dreams of a catastrophic flood, becomes swept up in an encephalitis epidemic. A hypochondriac awaits her diagnosis at a Caribbean health resort. A disease researcher meets his nemesis on a train. A father searches for his missing son in a remote mountain lodge where nothing is quite as it seems. An elderly pharmacist protects his adopted nephew, who found a mermaid in a bottle, from a coastal village gripped by hysteria. A teenager is sent to a "therapeutic" boarding school with disturbing methods and is reunited with a staff member years later. Even at its most surreal, this polished and lyrical debut remains grounded in the emotional lives of people teetering atop widening chasms of confusion and doubt. Brian Booker's stories have been published in theNew England Review,Conjunctions,One Story,Tin House,Vice, and elsewhere. He holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and a PhD in English from New York University, and has been a fiction fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. He teaches creative writing at the University of Chicago.Are You Here For What I'm Here For? is his first collection of fiction.… (more)

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